Today will be my last day writing for Beyond Chron. My partner will be moving up to Seattle for grad school at the end of the week, and I’ll be joining her. After countless protests, hearings at City Hall, press conferences, interviews, and my feeble attempts at political insight, I will truly miss what’s been the most fascinating two years of my professional life. It’s been a long, hard, and rewarding struggle to get the website where it is today, and I want to thank our readers for making it all worth it. I’ve learned more in the past months than I could ever recount, but in my last piece for this publication that I feel so much a part of, I’d like to try to impart a few of my thoughts on what I’ve gleaned from my time in and around the San Francisco political world.
The number of individuals in this city engaged in local politics and committed to making this a better place consistently amazes me. I come from Redding, California, where local politics consists of deciding how many tax breaks to give to the next big box retailer and betting on whether the vote for George W. Bush will exceed 70 percent. To be around so many who value and are willing to fight for social, economic and environmental justice has been a real breath of fresh air.
Not long after I arrived here, Muni decided to hike their fares. Before I knew it, I was knee-deep in a campaign to stop this from happening, working with social justice advocates trying to ensure low-income people have access to public transportation and environmentalists trying to keep folks out of their cars. It was during that effort that I met a lot of the people that I'd grow to respect, trust and admire over my time here.
Richard Marquez showed me the importance of grassroots organizing, and his knowledge of and commitment to the low-income communities and communities of color showed me a side of San Francisco I may have never known otherwise. His insistence that everyday San Franciscans be engaged at some level on any political campaign showed me that establishing connections with real people is a far more important indicator of political success than inside connections and appointments to commissions.
Fran Taylor, Jeremy Nelson, Sam Dodge, the Central City SRO Collaborative staff, and a slew of other folks showed me how hard people are willing to work here for what they believe in. Boarding bus after bus to get postcards signed protesting the fare hike, getting up early in the morning to talk to folks in the Mission and Tenderloin, and refusing to give up no matter how bad it looked showed me what commitment to a cause meant.
It wouldn't be the last campaign or the last time these people would set an example for me as to what it means to be an activist.
Something truly impressive about these and other local activists I saw was their willingness to go on the offensive and their refusal to back down from a fight. I’ve seen folks take on insurmountable odds or seemingly impenetrable enemies in their quest for what they believe in.
Sister Bernie Galvin, for example, faces a public largely sold on the idea that the city is doing everything it can to solve homelessness. But Galvin recently unveiled proof that the city continues to cite homeless people for quality of life issues at an alarming rate, showing that at the same time we're trying to house people, we're spending millions harming the people we're supposedly trying to help. Galvin's hardheaded perseverance and bravery in working to help the homeless has served as an inspiration for me and many others throughout my tenure here.
Coming to the city, I had a deep distrust of all elected officials. I believed, as so many do, that they couldn’t be trusted and could only be counted on for one thing – a penchant for blind ambition.
But volunteering for Matt Gonzalez’s campaign for Mayor turned me from a political bystander into an activist. My first stories for this website (a series on the candidates for District 5 Supervisor) introduced me to Ross Mirkarimi, a guy who showed me politicians could have integrity, passion, knowledge about the issues, and commitment, and still be the kind of down to earth person you'd want to have a beer with.
And finally, being around Chris Daly for the past couple years has shown me the strength politicians who fight hard for what they believe in must have. A tireless advocate for those traditionally left out of the political process, Daly's insistence that low-income people be brought to the table has earned him a lot of enemies. But it's also earned him my deep respect, and the respect of most everyone in this city who believes in social justice.
Much has been said on this website and elsewhere about the changing demographics of San Francisco. In the five years that I’ve been here, I’ve definitely seen a change. As evictions keep displacing people, as more luxury condominiums get built, as housing costs remain at shockingly high levels, I’ve seen a parade of people forced out of this city. The outlook is grim - a place formerly known for its inclusiveness is rapidly becoming a place solely for the rich.
While it would be easy to get depressed about the situation, it’s in this struggle that people here have shown me their greatest strength. I've watched Ted Gullicksen bring tenant advocates and victims of evictions together and build a strong tenant movement responsible for keeping hundreds of low-income people here. And I've seen the Housing Clinic's lawyers - Dean Preston, Raquel Fox, Steve Collier, and their behind the scenes mastermind Steve Schubert - defend hundreds of people facing eviction with nowhere else to go.
I’ve seen so many who are given no breaks in this life make their voices heard, and I've seen so many people committed to good causes fight hard for what they believe. And despite all the gloomy prognostications for San Francisco's future, it’s been these people that have given me real hope for San Francisco. Because of them, I know that should I ever return, all will not be lost. I have confindence that they will be able to save some of the character, diversity and beauty so unique to this place.
Before I go, I'd like to give one last special thanks to Randy Shaw. It’s Randy’s vision that brought Beyond Chron into existence, his commitment that has kept him in the Tenderloin working constantly for low-income people for the past 25 years, and it was his guts that brought him to hire a political rookie fresh out of grad school to help run a website, work with SRO tenants, and introduce to the world of San Francisco politics. Thanks, Randy, and keep up the fight.
To contact Casey Mills in his post-Beyond Chron life, e-mail him at email@example.com.